In 24 hours, we’ll be headed to the airport to begin our journey…  home. Home???

It’s been a whirlwind week of chasing down signatures, selling cars, packing boxes, cleaning cabinets and eating out as much as we can stand.  My kids are exhausted, my husband is frazzled, and me?  Well, I’ve said a lot of goodbyes and cried a lot and generally made everyone around me a little crazy with my lists and post-it notes.  But we have just about made it.  Just about made it to the end of our time on Okinawa.

Tears threaten as I write those last words.  I’m not sure how to go about leaving.  On the spectrum of thrilled versus bummed-to-be-leaving-Okinawa, I fall far on the side of bummed.  It’s been three years, but I’m not ready to go and that leaves me feeling very awkward.

And I’ve spent too much time lately noticing places I’d meant to go.  Thinking down my “list of things to do before leaving Okinawa” and realizing the ones I’ve failed to complete.  Regretting the classes I wanted to take, the restaurants I wanted to eat in and the experiences I wanted to have.

That’s not to say that we didn’t pack a TON into our three-year-tour.  We did. But there were always more things I wanted to do.  And then last week something happened to highlight these missed chances…


Soon after arriving in 2007, I discovered that there is a town near the Renaissance Hotel called Yamada.  That is our last name, so when I heard there was an old famous bridge in that area (the Yamada Bridge!) I figured we’d HAVE to go there.  It’s been on my to-do list forever.

We tried to go about 8 months ago, but following Japanese signs isn’t always easy and though we enjoyed a lovely hike, we didn’t turn the right way to get to the bridge.  But I thought I knew the mistake we made and vowed to come back later.

Later turned out to be last week, our one family day before the chaos of PCS week hit.  We drove up and turned down the road I thought was correct and began to walk.  Straight up hill.  With a 4 year old, a 2 year old and a baby. STRAIGHT UP HILL.  And up and up and up.  I was surprised I hadn’t read about this steep paved road in the directions, but we just kept going.


At the top there was…  well, really, nothing.  There was a big scaffolding that the boys enjoyed climbing with their dad and seeing the ocean.  But there was no old bridge in sight.


Undeterred, I pushed us forward through the steadily encroaching flora and fauna.  When the path completely disappeared in front of us I finally admitted this probably wasn’t the right way and that we’d have to turn back.


I was very disappointed.  How could we leave Okinawa without seeing OUR BRIDGE???

But my boys didn’t seem at all disappointed.  In fact, they seemed to doubly enjoy the walk back down the hill…  finding long sticks along the way to fence with and listening to some crazy bird calls and generally enjoying the day.

As we drove home, I found myself fighting with disappointment.  There wouldn’t be another opportunity to find the bridge.  Three WHOLE years on Okinawa and we didn’t get there.

Sometimes you just don’t get there.

Sometimes you don’t see what you thought you were going to see.  Sometimes you’re not able to cross off all the items on your list.  But haven’t we been told that the joy is in the journey?

As the hours tick down on my family’s time on this beautiful island paradise, I can truly say that is true.  There was very little we did here on Okinawa that was easy.  Even the easiest things took a little effort.  But wasn’t that where the fun came in?  Aren’t those the crazy stories I’ve told friends and family?  Of the seemingly insignificant successes and new discoveries made daily on our island?

I may not have seen and done everything I wanted to on Okinawa.  But every path led to a new experience that I wouldn’t trade for all the rice in Japan.

The journey has been fabulous.  Joy all the way.


  1. I might be a little too late to join in, but here I go.

    I think what Chris is pointing out is the voice of the Okinawan Government, not necessarily the voice of the general Okinawan citizens.

    I don’t find what media publishes as they call “Okinawan voices” necessarily accurate. Also, we have to interpret the information precisely. Em has a very good point. The survey was about the relocation of Futenma U.S. Marine Station, not all the military bases.

    There has been ongoing politics between the Okiawan government and the government of Japan. Okinawan Government feels neglected and wants their voices to weight more when it comes to the Okinawan affairs especially regarding military bases (fair enough). The Okinawan politicians usually portray their opinions as that of the Okinawan citizens. I, however, think that what the government or media expresses does not always accurately reflect the general opinion of the citizens.

    When I still lived on the island, I’ve asked people their opinions on the military existence and their answer always included that they knew at least one family member or more working on base or have business related to the U.S. military. I’m sure there are people who feels strongly against the military bases, but I would not say that it’s the majority.

    Sorry, this is way too long for a comment!!

  2. My family had a great time this weekend when we headed out to explore the island. We enjoyed our small interactions with the Okniwawans, who always had a smile and kind words for my kids while I was busy smiling at their own little cuties. I completely enjoyed the scenery up north, which was mostly pristine except for the entire side of a mountain that was excavated and deforested completely in half by an Okinawan construction company. The port was so peaceful, except for the noise from the ferries and ships and the construction going on in the nearby area. By the way, the ferries and ships left the air smelling like fuel and smoke. Not that I am complaining about any of this. It’s just that it proves the point that the military is not the only thing contributing noise pollution and putting stress on the environment here. It’s called “technology” and “development”, and it happens just about anywhere in the world.

  3. In addition…

    I’m not being mean or rude…just frank. We just really can’t help you here. We enjoy this site for the reason it was made – to learn how we can make the most of our stay here in Okinawa. And quite honestly, there’s nothing that you can say that would make me change how I feel about being on this island. I intend to explore this island very very much until the last day of our stay here. I’m sorry, there’s not a single ounce of guilt on my part about being here. Maybe if Mama-san across the street or the other Okinawans that I know start not wanting us here…maybe I’ll think about it. Their opinion matter more to me because I know them and they know me and my family. They’re not some stranger who tells us that our presence here is a burden without even taking the time to know who we are.

    Enjoy the rally and put some sunscreen on. We’ll be at the beach or one of the attractions or restaurants off base.

  4. The survey was about relocation of the Futenma U.S. Marine Air Station to Camp Schwabb not even about all of the bases nor the US Military in general. Also, was the entire population surveyed or was it a voluntary survey which involved people who are willing to take the time to respond?

    Also, if your issue is about Okinawans’ voice not being heard, then you are voicing it on the wrong site. You need to address the Japanese government not Okinawahai readers nor the US Military. If the Japanese government doesn’t want the US military here, there’s nothing the US Military can do just as it was with the bases in the Philippines.

    So, I suggest that you get better facts and perhaps write a letter to the Prime Minister of Japan.

  5. This post is directed to The Professor, but if you want facts:

    “A Mainichi poll conducted with a local newspaper in Okinawa Prefecture has found that some 67 percent of residents there are opposed to the relocation of the Futenma U.S. Marine Air Station to Camp Schwab, also in Okinawa Prefecture. The poll, conducted Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, also found that some 70 percent of respondents believe the Hatoyama administration should negotiate with the United States to have the base relocated outside the prefecture or the country — which Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama pledged to do during the August Lower House election campaign. Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima has been calling for the air station to be relocated just off the coast, as the current plan stipulates. However, the Mainichi poll found that only 13 percent of respondents favored the move, while only 7 percent believed another location within Okinawa Prefecture should be considered. Combined with the 5 percent who said the base move should proceed exactly as planned, only 25 percent of respondents said they thought the base should be relocated within Okinawa.” (Source Mainichi Daily news)

    Plus, there will be Okinawa’s largest rally in history this Sunday regarding ridding their land of military presence. I think the numbers are predicted to be about 100,000+.

    Earlier on when Hatoyama (Prime Minister of Japan) stated that Tokushima (part of Kagoshima) could be the site for a new US base, more than half of the island showed up to protest (around 26,000 protesters, if I recall)

    In any case, the poll taken last November was done throughout Okinawa and it numbered 70%. 70% is not a “resistance” but a “majority”.

    I know that you have all been told that you or your family are protecting the region. However, you may be missing the fact that you are not protecting the choice of the people. Sadly, they are not being heard.

    I don’t hate the US military nor Americans. I am half American and half Japanese and I have lived in both countries. I just wish there was more awareness of the issues at hand.

  6. Joelle, I’m so glad you guys made it safely. Are you going through culture shock? We’re leaving in about 3 weeks so this post hit very close to home! I can hardly describe all of the emotions flowing so I’m glad you were able to do so for me:)

  7. Joelle, we miss you already! You truly embraced Okinawa and all this beautiful island has to offer, especially the people.

    Chris- Everyone is entitled to an opinion. I like to base my opinions on what the facts are. What are the facts when it comes to numbers of Okinawans who want US military here and numbers who don’t? We really should start with the facts and not opinions.

  8. Chris, I understand where you’re coming from, but dude we didn’t establish the policy that brought the Military here. If you want to “share the other side” then write up a balanced, well-thought-out post with facts, and submit it to Meredith. There may (or may not!) be a place on Okinawa Hai for an intelligent post on what I thought of as “The Resistance”. The point of the Okinawa Hai blog is to share information on how to see/do/enjoy the island and it’s people.

    Joelle, it’s pretty obvious by reading the comments that you have truly found words for what so many of us feel! Our own Okinawa tour was abruptly cut in half, so my list of “didn’t get to dos” is regrettably long. However, it’s thanks to you and your amazing example of loving this island that my list of “got to dos” is as long as it is! It’s thanks to you that I found WWOOF and was able to actually live in homes with Japanese hosts, experiencing Okinawa from a native perspective. I never would have done that if I hadn’t met you through Okinawa Hai. I’m sorry you didn’t get to find your bridge, but I know there are many, many other bridges in your future to find and explore! 🙂

  9. It was a beautiful post. Joelle so sad reading this. I remember first meeting you shortly after you arrived on island. There was so much to see and do and learn from. Hard to believe we are both gone now. I hope everyone else reading this has as many special moments and makes as many special memories as you have. Good luck. xxoo

  10. Mishka- Nicely put. You’ve expressed my sentiments exactly. I’ve never had any of my Okinawan friends and acquaintances tell me they wished we would leave. This is our second tour as well, and I’m pleased to be back again. I’ve been in Joelle’s shoes and I’m glad she did such a good job of summing up her feelings about departing the island because many have felt the same way or will feel the same way in the future. I’ve spent the better part of a decade here. Had two of my three children here. Watched helplessly as my own country was attacked while I was here watching it on AFN. Matured into being a wife and a mother here. Reunited with my husband after tdy’s and deployments here. Made new friends and said goodbye to some of them when it was there turn to leave Okinawa. A second home. How else could I feel about it?

  11. I am really surprised that anyone would use this post as a place to post negative comments when Joelle did such a great job describing her emotions regarding leaving a place that has been such a big part of her life. Shame on you.

    Okinawa is a beautiful place, full of amazing people and a very rich culture. I have lived here for 7 years and have not run into one person who wanted the US to leave and I know a lot of local people. The Okinawans have always been very gracious and eager to share not only their culture but their lives with us if we only get out and “give it a go”. There is a million things to do and places to see. You can’t live here long enough to do it all.

    I am so grateful for my time here and this island and its inhabitants will always hold a dear place in my heart. This place is absolutely paradise and the distance has never bothered me, it has given all of my family a destination for their travels. We have all been blessed for the experience and opportunity.

    I know that I will not be able to complete my own “Okinawan bucket list” but I will do as much as I can up until the moment I am forced to leave.

    Joelle, just in case you ever do get to come back (and it does happen, this is our second time here), there is/or at least used to be, a geocache very close to the Yamada bridge…I might even have decent directions for it…if you are ever interested.

  12. Joelle, your post brought me some clarity. Being in Okinawa was more than just another overseas tour for me. Learning more about this mysterious island, the place my mother was shaped into the person she is today, helped me understand her and myself more than ever before. I couldn’t help but feel that this dream was frequently interrupted by reality. I felt like I could ever get “out there” and do enough. But after reading your post, I imagine everyone feels that way about every place they live. And we make the best of it. No regrets because, I GOT TO LIVE IN FREAKIN’ OKINAWA! (Sorry, I am just so grateful.)

  13. Chris, a majority of the people I have met and talked to want to be here as much as the Okinawan people want us here. Which is not at all. So I don’t think you are going to get anywhere coming on here complaining. I have met maybe a handful that actually like this place.

  14. You stumbled upon one of our fav places to drive to when stressed/bored/etc. If you would have driven up that crazy hill and down the overgrown trail not only is there the awesome view from the rickety scaffolding but further down is a small bee farm where they cultivate Okinawa Honey found at the little bee stores throughout the island! You found a little gem on your last adventure and that’s great! I think you have the right attitude about the tour as well. It is about the journey more so then the destination. Coming from a guy that dragged his family through three unsuccessful trips to the infamous Pizza (in the) Sky. 🙂 First time no clue on directions just hoping for signs. Second time friggan closed. boo hoo. Third times a charm! Enjoy your new assignment much in the way you did here!

  15. Chris~I’m glad you didn’t “press on with the issue”…..ahem. And again, this is not a place for your words. If you are a Japanese citizen you should take it up with the city officials and the proper chain. It really won’t do any good here…except get a few of those who nod their heads in agreement with you or offend those who don’t.

  16. Thank you for all the responses, even from those that I have offended. I also agree that this is not the place to be arguing this, so I won’t press on with the issue further than this post.

    The only thing I’d really like to point out is that while the Okinawan people may be having “grass is greener” situation regarding the US military presence, the point is more about the freedom to choose. As Americans, I would figure that this point should ring true to most, if not all of you, who are defending liberty and freedom. It is a fact that the Okinawan people have voted, as a majority, to have their lands free of military presence. Yet, their voices are largely unheard by the various governments at work in this situation.

    Whether Okinawans may regret their decision to remove the US bases, or whether the Okinawans will become host to another military presence in the future is not the point of what I am saying.

    The point is that the Okinawan people should have the freedom to choose. Right or wrong, there is value in allowing a society to attempt to strive for autonomy and freedom. There is a democratic process in Okinawa and they have unanimously voted to remove US military bases from the island. It is tremendously sad to me to see that their voices are being overshadowed by entities and opinions that dictate what is best for them.

    “I know the majority of Okinawan people have voted to be independent of US bases, but we know what’s better for them” …is something I hear all too often.

  17. We can all have differing opinions on the US-Okinawa situation. No need for people to jump all over him just b/c he has a different perspective. God knows, I’ve certainly been given some “You dirty American!” looks, and not b/c I needed a shower or was being unruly. Doesn’t anyone else think it strange that the US is the only nation to establish military bases in foreign territories? No matter how you might like to defend the idea (particularly with regard to Okinawa) that the US presence provides regional security and stability, it is still weird. Anyway, it has been more than a century since the Ryukyus claimed even semi-autonomy, and were they somehow to gain full independence, it would not last. Someone else would step in to lay claim over these islands. For now, I’ll just be glad it is Japan who is defended primarily by the US, the SOFA treaties that allow me to live here, and the generous hospitality of the majority of Okinawans who do open up their island home to us. We are so fortunate to be given this opportunity – I certainly hope to make the most of mine while I’m here. Maybe I will find my bridge, maybe I won’t, but sometimes it is more about the journey than the destination.

  18. Wow…all my Okinawan neighbors don’t seem to share your sentiments, Chris. They have been very welcoming from the moment we moved in. That is one of the many reasons this island has been pretty much home to us.

  19. Thank you all for your words! We made it safely to the States and “sort of” slept last night.

    When we got in line at immigration at the end of our journey, my middle child had just had too much and started to cry from exhaustion. I comforted him and asked what was wrong. His response?

    “I want to go home.”


  20. Joelle, I hope your journey home is safe and uneventful. As for the last comment, I am sure that once our military has left this dear island the wonderful people of Okinawa will come to see the grass is not always greener on the other side! Consider this, We military have also made a very positive impact on the economy here and if you have read you history you would know it was the American military that helped rebuild this island after the war. Our military being here also protects this island from the threat of more war. Yeah thats right, our noise truly is the sound of freedom! I guess you can see that you have offended at least on person. I have had my say but you should also know this post was no place for your unkind words.

  21. I’m sure this is bound to offend people here, but your enjoyment of the island and Okinawa through your military presence has come at the expense of the Okinawan people. I hope that gradually, the voices of the Okinawan people can be heard amongst the even louder voices of the American and Tokyo governments.

    I’m sure that the US military has done its fair share for the community and then some, but there is something to be said for a people to decide their own fate. This is something that the Okinawan people have not had in many years.

    Please remember Okinawa with happiness, but also keep in mind that the military bases have been a burden on nature and on society.

  22. You made me tear up. We leave in just a few more short weeks, which are of course packed full with things to do to get out of here. I can’t believe our time is gone! We’ve done so much, but there’s always more and of course there’s going back to those fun places one last time (will my kids forgive me if we don’t make it back to Round One one more time?!) There are always new adventures to be had though… even if they aren’t quite where we want them to be.

  23. We were stationed in Okinawa before. We tried to get out and see a lot of the island during our four year tour, but we left regretting we didn’t visit more sites, eat at more restaurants off base, and be more proactive within our military community. We arrived back on island for our second tour and we’re thankful to have the chance to do it all over again.

  24. Awesome post, Joelle. I wish you and your family the best!

    Almost six years ago, we arrived in Okinawa. I remember fighting back tears as I saw the waters and the island from the plane. I could not believe that we would actually be living in this island for, at the time, four years. But a month after we got here, I broke down because I felt so homesick…only I didn’t know where home was anymore. We moved around so many times that home was everywhere we’ve been and anywhere my family and I are together. As time went on, we “lived” on Okinawa. As small as this island is, there are many places to go to, find, and enjoy if you venture out of the base. And here, almost six years later (after an extension), we dread having to leave this island. This has been home.

  25. Very nice post, however, I am happy to leave here with my family.
    Although it’s been a great adventure, this rock is not the paradise we were promised. I am looking forward to being close to family again. This place is just too far from the people we love.

  26. Joelle,

    Hmmm well I went through your same experience 11 years ago and have missed Okinawa since. The first year I left Oki I would dream of it and wake up disappointed. I am happy to say that one of the reasons my hubby stayed in the military was to get me back there. What a wonderful hubby!
    I am finally after 11years going back to Oki this July! So much has changed since we were there last. I am looking forward to the changes and the familiarity.
    This second chance to live in Okinawa is truly a blessing and I will cherish each day.

  27. Joelle, Thank you for puting into words what most of us feel. What a great read filled with obvious spirit and passion. I went through your experiance several times PCSing out of here with the family and now I retired here. Your words were like reflections of those events. Enjoy your next journey…no regrets!

  28. Great post, Joelle! So much truth to your theory and story. I have done the same in the past. Thanks for sharing. I saw Mere and Aviva today and we talked about you as you’re leaving the island. I hope you’ll have a safe and eventless trip back to the U.S.!

  29. Great reminder that we should look forward, focus on what we did do and what we saw and who we spent time with – not on what we didn’t do or what we didn’t see. Your family is an inspiration. You might not have gotten to cross “your” bridge but you made an impact on this island, on her precious people and on all of us who had the honor of knowing you!!!! Safe travels my sweet friend and I look forward to hearing about your new adventures back in the U.S.!!!!

  30. Beautifully written, Joelle. Reminds me I need to get started on my own to-do list before we head out in August. Connor had a blast with you in class, even if it didn’t seem like it at the time. Best wishes in your future travels.

  31. I love this post Joelle! Sorry you didn’t find your bridge, but like you said, you have a whole stack of other great memories to take with you, memories of places seen, people you’ve met, and things you’ve done. I know it’s hard to say goodbye when you’re not quite ready, but hopefully you’ll be able to focus on the journey ahead of you and all the new and wonderful experiences you have to look forward to with your family. Take care 🙂